Yesterday, I was four hours late for a meeting, surely a new record. I got on a train at Bournemouth at 12.30pm to attend a meeting in London at 3pm, and eventually made it to the capital at 7 o’clock in the evening (for international readers, severe gales caused massive disruption on the UK train lines). In fact, I only made it to Wimbledon, where the train ceased to exist, and so I schlepped it on the tube to Piccadilly Circus before racing to Great Marlborough Street to attend the meeting. The fact that they were still around and willing to meet tells me that they’re either very keen, or were luckily available.
The meeting lasts half an hour as we have a very nice chat about a very interesting project, and I’m promptly on my way to Waterloo where there’s a delayed train to Bournemouth just about to depart (so I don’t have to take up my agent’s generous offer of accommodation if I was left stranded - bless her heart!). Four hours later (nine hours of total train time), I’m at home eating jacket potato and beans watching that night’s taped ER (quite good but soured by a misogynist streak which was slightly jarring coming from the characters that I know and love).
Expectation & Reward
As your writing career develops, it is sometimes difficult to recognise the key moments and transitions that define the level of your success. When you’re planning ahead, or picturing how your career might shape up, it is natural to imagine golden scenes like receiving the phone call that bags your first commission, or having lunch with the producer who buys your hot script.
However, when these do happen, or moments like them, it’s never how you pictured it, and more often than not, it’s a feeling of relief and justification that overwhelms you rather than the anticipated elation or euphoria. That’s because you’ve been working hard to reach that point, and the reward has been achieved through small gradual moments of progress. You’re like a sailor staring at the horizon, eagerly anticipating the switch from night to day but only becoming aware of a gradual shift in the stars' hue as sunrise slowly infuses the sky. The reality of the occasion is greeted with gracious acknowledgement but it’s not quite the emotion you were expecting.
A director recently said to me: “Send me the script that you’re most proud of, or the one that represents your best abilities”. And then, an exec mentioned: “It doesn’t matter if a script is well-written, it’s more to do with if it’s ready for the market. Will it sell?”
For new writers, it’s vital to have a strong calling card script. Whether it be a personal character-driven piece, or an original take on a familiar genre. The character-driven scripts will attract more attention and praise (basically what the director was after) because it will usually demonstrate the writer’s specific voice, while writing a genre flick as your calling card can be problematic because you really need to know your stuff (respect the genre and hit its marks) whilst coming up with devastatingly original fare (and thus be ready for the market).
After a few years of script reading and a couple of poor feature scripts under my belt, I decided I needed to write a new script, something that demonstrated my original voice and proved that I could do what I dished out. In other words, put up or shut up regarding who I was as a reader, and what I wanted to be as a writer. I sat down to write a sample script, and I opted for the low-concept, character-driven approach, something which I thought would have a slim chance of getting made but would effectively demonstrate my abilities.
These are the areas that I specifically focused on: original idea and setting, original/interesting characters that went on a suitable emotional journey, a clear and inviting writing style, and a structure that suitably supported the drama without being gimmicky/rigid or bringing attention to itself. The result was Run For Home, a coming-of-age drama about a young boy who goes to live with his aunt after the death of his mother but as he struggles to settle into his new surroundings, he discovers the shattering truth of his mother’s death.
While the idea’s not earth shatteringly original, it’s still interesting enough, and I set the film in Cobh, Co. Cork, a striking and picturesque harbour town in Ireland where I grew up; ideal for a film especially as no-one’s used the location as of yet. The script isn’t autobiographical (although everyone assumes it is: hello, my mother’s still alive, thanks) but there are some personal elements or observations in there about my home town that relate to the characters that inhabit the story.
I wrote it in 2003, and it won the BBC Tony Doyle Award the following year, and to this day, it still gets me meetings and attention, especially since it has undergone healthy development with Parallel Films, who optioned the material and lined up Liam Cunningham to star. The script has done exactly what I intended it to do, and has surprised me by winning the award and earning me some money in the process, which is great! So, a good calling card script is a must. I would recommend something original and character-driven, but if you’re a die-hard genre fan, then feel free to show everyone that you’ve got what it takes with your distinct approach to the game.
This is my 300th post. Come get some.